Becoming a PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor
Below I have included my Experiential Learning proposal as well as the reflection I submitted at the end of my project. The intensive hours I spent at Little Bit completing this project fostered new and powerful ideas about the influence that a relationship with a horse can have on mental health. I purposefully included my original Experiential Learning entries because they clearly describe a turning point in my career goals; the beginning of my transition away from occupational therapy and therapeutic riding (which I had been preparing to do as a career all throughout high school) and towards psychology and equine assisted mental health.
Summarize your proposed experiential learning activity, including the primary focus of your activity, your intended actions, and the expectations of your supervisor and/or organization/partners.
I will be interning at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in preparation to take the PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) Instructor Certification exam. As an intern I will be learning and eventually administering equine therapy to people with mental and physical disabilities. I hope to focus on learning about commonly treated disabilities and the therapeutic methods that can best combat their symptoms. I also want to learn more about the lives and challenges that people with disabilities face to develop a better appreciation for my patients and the benefits of equine therapy. My supervisor expects me to approach the therapies with an objective and positive view and translate these feeling onto my riders.
How and why did you select this engagement? What skills or experiences do you hope to gain from it?
I had worked at Little Bit as a Class Assistant and Barn Staff member during high school. I had always aspired to become PATH certified, but unfortunately I was not old enough to pursue an internship or a certification. Now that I am 18 I am thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to complete both of these! I hope to gain effective communication skills from this project. I want to master speaking to patients in a way that inspires them to dedicate themselves to their therapy, as well as clearly explaining my own expectations and desires. I have also been considering equine therapy as a career choice and I am eager to experience it as a therapist and discover if it is a good fit for me.
How does this activity connect to your concurrent or past coursework? How does it speak to your broader education goals and experiences?
My love of helping others as well as my reverence for the therapeutic power of a bond between animal and human had placed equine therapy in my list of potential careers during high school. During winter quarter I took an introductory Psychology class and found myself fascinated in understanding and analyzing how people think. My newly discovered interest in the field of psychology has led me to reexamine my desire to become a therapeutic riding instructor. While I still hope to help others through equine therapy, I am now very excited to explore the recently discovered benefits of equine therapy for treating psychological disorders.
Working at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center this summer and completing my PATH Intl. certification course have been invaluable experiences. My time at Little Bit has given me a wide education surrounding individuals with disabilities. I was pushed to learn beyond basic knowledge of the symptoms and causes of the disabilities, and instead towards considering the benefits and potential challenges that a rider's disability may imply. I also learned the many ways that I could adapt riding gear, volunteer instruction, lesson plans and my own teaching to best benefit my riders.
Learning this flexibility was a difficult but valuable challenge for me. I tend to be a "type A" personality-I like having a plan and follow through with it. However when teaching a lesson that can include up to 5 horses, 5 riders and 15 volunteers, my meticulously-made lesson plans usually got thrown out the window. I had to learn to adapt to the new situation, stay in control and still act as an effective instructor. Being able to adjust to an unexpected situation to benefit others was a valuable skill for me to learn, and one that I think will benefit me in many other aspects of my life.
I believe that I have progressed greatly this summer as an instructor. Beyond being able to teach an effective lesson, I am very proud of how I learned to connect on a personal level with my riders. I think that having a compassionate and trusting work relationship with the riders is what allowed me to explore my own teaching abilities. I did my best to do routine and personal check-ins with each of my riders throughout my lessons to ensure they fully understood the objectives they were trying to complete. I also recognized the value of asking the riders for their own opinions-I tried to spend time after each class talking to the riders and brainstorming with them for new tools or techniques that would allow them to reach their goals more quickly. I think that giving my riders' ideas value and showing consideration for the challenges they faced allowed us to gain a mutual sense of trust and friendship. My certification as a therapeutic riding instructor with PATH Intl. is an incredibly exciting first step towards what I hope is going to be a career in equine therapy. I became certified as early as I was allowed, that is, as soon as I turned 18. I hope that having a PATH certification under my belt this young will demonstrate to potential employers or internship coordinators my passion and dedication for equine therapy. Already I have been offered a job as an instructor at an equine facilitated learning center that services at-risk youth! I am so grateful for these opportunities and very excited for my experiences to come.